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The Real Differences Between Mormons and Orthodox Christians
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The Real Differences Between Mormons and Orthodox Christians

Most voters don't care very much about Romney's Mormonism.

A survey this summer by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 60 percent of voters who know of Romney's Mormonism are comfortable with his religion. Another 21 percent said it doesn't matter.

But the Pew survey also found that, along with atheists and agnostics, white evangelicals and black Protestants are the most uncomfortable with his religion. The vast majority of those who are already Republican will vote for Romney anyway, but only 21 percent of those who are uncomfortable with his Mormonism will back him strongly. Some may choose not to vote at all.

This could spell trouble for Republicans. CBS News found that half of the voters in the 14 GOP primaries from January through March were evangelicals. Their lukewarm support for John McCain in 2008—with many staying home on Election Day and around 30 percent of their 18-29 year-olds casting votes for Obama—helped give the White House to the Democrats.

The Pew survey found evangelicals evenly split on whether Mormonism is a Christian religion. Of those evangelicals who say Mormonism is not Christian, some fear it will advance Mormonism and blur the boundaries between true Christian faith and its counterfeits. They think this election will force them to choose between the nation and the gospel.

But are these evangelicals right to think that Mormonism is not Christian?

They are right to think that the God of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is different from the God of traditional Christian orthodoxy, but evangelicals have often been wrong in their reasons for believing this.

For example, they have sometimes thought Mormons deny the divinity of Jesus. Yet the Book of Mormon says it was "the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" who was "lifted up … and … crucified" (1 Nephi 19:10).

Evangelicals also typically protest that Mormons believe in salvation by good works. Some Mormons do indeed believe this, just as many Catholics and some Protestants believe they will be saved by being good Christians. Yet the Book of Mormon teaches salvation by Christ's work of grace: "There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Nephi 2:8)

Mainstream Christians who condemn Mormons for teaching salvation by works sometimes forget that Jesus teaches the necessity of works as a fruit of true faith: "By their fruit you shall know them" (Matt. 7:16). "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

At the same time, evangelicals have legitimate reasons to believe that Mormon beliefs are different from those of historic Christianity. For if Mormons believe Jesus is now fully God, they do not believe he was always God. Joseph Smith wrote that just as God "was once as we are now," Jesus over time grew into being God (Abraham 3:24).

The contrast with Christian orthodoxy is considerable: the Jesus of the historic church was always the second person of the Trinity, fully divine and fully equal to the Father, who in turn was always God. There never was a time when the Trinity was not fully God, each of the three Persons co-equal and co-divine. Jesus never moved from non-divine to divine, and did not gain divine attributes after not having them.There were times in his incarnation when he voluntarily "emptied himself" of some of his divine prerogatives, such as knowing the day and the hour of the end of all things (Phil. 2.7; Matt. 24.36). But these were powers which he had possessed until the Incarnation, and chose not to use while on earth in bodily form.

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The Real Differences Between Mormons and Orthodox Christians